Over the past few years there have been some unsettling developments taking place that could affect myself, my home community of Attawapiskat on the James Bay coast and other First Nations people across the country. There are new political movements at the provincial and national levels of government that are making great changes. A lot of these changes, especially at the national level, will have a huge impact on Native people.
In British Columbia, a new government has been elected that seems to want to undo all the work that has been done to create positive relations with First Nations people. It is disturbing to see the newly elected British Columbia government disrupt the positive and beneficial working relationship and communication that their province has created with First Nation leaders and communities over the past few years. Recently this government initiated a controversial referendum on treaty negotiations to all of the people of British Columbia. The information that was distributed to the people of British Columbia created a lot of confusion and negative perceptions of Native people and the treaty developments that are taking place in the province. In fact the referendum survey was racist in tone and has only managed to raise emotions of hate and intolerance.
At the national level, the federal government has initiated a development to introduce new changes to the Indian Act, under the so-called aim of creating more political and financial accountability. The Indian Act sets out certain federal responsibilities and obligations to First Nations people and their reserve lands. Many amendments, revisions and repeals to the Indian Act have taken place over the years since it was first passed in 1876 but proposed legislation that has been recently introduced will result in great change without the real involvement of Native leaders. Although many First Nation people do want change, these initiatives by the federal government are taking place quickly and with little support and the displeasure of Native leaders. The changes to the Indian Act, known as the First Nations Governance Act, was created with little input and support from First Nation leaders. Even without proper support the federal government is going ahead with the changes it wants to introduce.
The First Nations Governance Act is very difficult for our First Nations leaders to stomach. It continues with the same old condescending attitude where the government is directing changes and not allowing we First Nation people to make our own choices. You would think that in this day and age governments would realize that we should have most of the say in any changes to legislation that affects us. This is a dangerous trend that will not be beneficial for my people. Instead of honouring treaty rights and making it easier for First Nation people to have a share of the wealth in resources to become independent and self sufficient, the government is making new changes in the way we are governed without really taking into account what we have to say about it. Have we not learned from the past?
It is disheartening to see these changes taking place because I fear they will create a lot of difficulty for my people and will cast a negative light on Native people. Government initiatives such as the British Columbia referendum have created a lot of bad perceptions of First Nation developments and has spread fear and apprehension about First Nation initiatives.
It really is disheartening to have to deal with the right wing, narrow minded attitudes that are prevailing these days in Canadian government. Perhaps it is time that we reach out to other minorities, the labour movement, the environmental and conservation movement and our friends in government. We will need the support of many if we are to stand against the ugly trend that is threatening to shove aside the rights of Native people in this country.
Ed Note. Part Two of Just Who are the MooCreebec will return next issue. The latest development is that we have just learnt at press time that the MooCreebec Council have retained a lawyer to contest the results. We do not feel we can adequately cover this issue until all parties have been contacted.